Innovation That Matters

A Wise Words with Nick Wheeler


We spoke to Nick Wheeler, founder of Charles Tyrwhitt.

“I started my own business because I wanted to be in control of my own destiny.” — Nick Wheeler

Almost 30 years ago, Nick Wheeler started his business with an Amstrad word processor and £99, which he used to print 5,000 leaflets. Today, his premium shirting company Charles Tyrwhitt has a turnover of £190 million and 750 employees. He has invested in shoes, Christmas trees and photography.

In addition to owning the UK’s largest mail-order shirt business, his company boasts over 20 shops, from Glasgow to Madison Avenue in New York. In our recent interview with Nick, we found out what motivates him, the biggest obstacles to becoming a successful entrepreneur, and more.

1. Where did the idea for your business come from?

It came from the need to start my own business. I knew I wanted my own business. I knew I wanted to sell a product that I understood and loved. I had done shoes, Christmas trees, and photography. I was running out of loves and shirts was the next on the list

2. Can you describe a typical working day?

There is no typical working day. I don’t like the idea of there being a typical working day. I started my own business because I wanted to be in control of my own destiny. I never signed up for a typical working day. That is boring. I like every day to be different.

3. How do you unwind and relax when you are not working?

When you have your own business, it never feels like work. I do what I do because I love it. I don’t really feel the need to unwind and relax. I feel unwound and relaxed most of the time! I love swimming, running and cycling. Like in my business career, I am a true plodder in all three. I get there in the end regardless of the distance, but it takes me a very long time.

4. What’s the secret ingredient for success as an entrepreneur?

Never give up. Keep pushing. Never take no for an answer. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I love clichés because they are usually true. If you give up, you will never get there. If you never give up, you will always get there in the end.

5. What drove you crazy as you were building your business?

Never hitting the numbers. I would try so hard to forecast accurately, but the natural instinct for the entrepreneur is to be over-optimistic. The problem with over-forecasting is that you can get yourself into very scary situations. Usually involving cash (or lack of!).

6. What motivates you to keep going?

I just love the business. I have the bit between my teeth. I want to build the best shirt business in the world. I love it when people come up to me and tell me they love Charles Tyrwhitt shirts. I love it when people working in the business tell me they love working at Charles Tyrwhitt. I will never get bored of that, and I will always love it.

7. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Loads of things! I would not have made all the really stupid mistakes that I have made. I would have told myself that I have been put on this planet to make great shirts and not to do all the other silly things that I have tried to do along the way. Focus is the most important lesson you can learn as an entrepreneur. We can get bored easily and “look for” distractions. That is a very dangerous thing.

8. Where do you see your business in five years and how will you get there?

Selling better quality shirts at better value for money than we are today. We will get there by tweaking the business every single day. Making ourselves better and better at what we do.

9. If you weren’t working on this right now, what would you be doing?

I’d like to be a farmer. Growing things from scratch.

10. Do you have any habits or routines, which help you in your working life?

I hate habits and routines. They make life boring. Unfortunately, they also make life easier. I try to clear my emails every night. It drives my family nuts.

11. What book are you reading, or writing now?

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

12. Tell Springwise a secret….

I wrote a book, but never published it. It was far too boring.

13. Any wise words for the budding entrepreneur?

Just get on with it. Too many great entrepreneurs never get going because they don’t have belief in their idea. Don’t give away the equity too early (or preferably ever). Be patient. It takes time. Rome was not built in a day. There you go – another bloody wonderful cliché!

You can read more about Nick here.